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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Interfaces and Configuration | Specialty and Future Hard Disk Interfaces ]

Parallel Port Interface

Originally designed only for printers, the parallel port turned out to be an amazingly flexible and universal interface for attaching a host of different devices to a variety of PCs. While rather slow, the parallel port has the advantages of being (mostly) standard, and present on virtually every PC. For this reason, it is often used for attaching external devices such as hard disks, CD-ROM drives and tape drives, especially for PCs that lack other expansion alternatives such as notebooks. For many years, I personally used a parallel-port Iomega Zip drive when I was maintaining several dozen PCs that were not networked; it was very helpful for transferring files between machines and doing backups. The parallel port can also be used with special software to connect two PCs together to let them share files.

Today, the role of the parallel port for storage devices is diminishing rapidly, as its "niche" is increasingly being filled by other interfaces that offer advantages over it. Almost all notebook PCs, for example, now come with PC Card slots and USB ports, which offer plug-and-play operation and better performance than the parallel port. The rise of networking has also largely obviated the need to use the parallel port for file sharing or connecting PCs together. I do expect use of the parallel port interface to "hang around" for many, many years, for the same reason floppy disk drives continue to be used: they are universal and there are a lot of devices around that make use of the parallel interface. As long as printers continue to use the parallel port as a primary means of attachment, other devices will be available for the parallel port as well.

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